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Indian Supreme Court turns away challenges to prisoner biometrics, EC Aadhaar collection

Indian Supreme Court turns away challenges to prisoner biometrics, EC Aadhaar collection

The Supreme Court of India has refused to admit a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the constitutionality of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act 2022 which entered into force in August last year. The Act increases the scope of biometrics police are allowed to collect.

A PIL, very common in the legal systems of India and Pakistan, is a case or petition filed to a court of law to either protect, safeguard or enforce public interest on an issue of wide concern.

In response to a PIL filed by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) and the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (CPAP), a bench of Supreme Court judges ruled recently that the matter can as well be looked into by a high court, according to the Times of India (TOI).

The Supreme Court also said it has not made any comment regarding the merits of the matter.

According to TOI, the two petitioners say the legislation has no sufficient privacy protection safeguards and that it allows law enforcement authorities too much powers with regard to the collection, storage, processing and management of biometric data from criminal suspects and detainees.

Okayed by parliament in April 2023, the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act 2022 and its related regulations, have come under sharp criticism from rights activists and opposition politicians who hold that it infringes on individual rights and freedoms and is in dissonance with a Supreme Court ruling on personal data privacy.

Per the law, which is an update of the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920, police officers have the authority to collect fingerprints, palm prints and footprints, iris and retina, behavioral and DNA biometrics as well as analysis of other physical features, signature and handwriting from suspects for purposes of criminal investigation. It also expands the scope of who can collect biometric data from suspects or detainees, among other major novelties.

Meanwhile, in a related Supreme Court story, the apex jurisdiction also recently turned away a plea to entertain a contempt action against the Election Commission (EC) of India for requiring Aadhaar for voter registration.

Deccan Herald reports that the court rejected a PIL in this regard, saying the election agency had promised to address the issue at its level, although no timeline had been set for that.

Last September, the EC had told the apex court that the submission of Aadhaar details will not be made mandatory, per the Herald.

India’s amended electoral law allows the linkage of a voter ID with the Aadhaar, and a campaign for voluntary linkage has been on since 2022.

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